Why Praising My Daughter For Her Beauty Doesn’t Make Me A Terrible Father

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An idea is a hell of a thing, floating across the brain’s superior temporal gyrus, seemingly limitless. We close our eyes and feel the burn of pure genius and bask in its warmth. I had the brilliant idea of monetizing my very cute daughter by launching her toddler modeling career and it felt wonderfully simple. But now, in the Roman sun, sweat pouring down my forehead, camera glued to my eye she is not cooperating and it feels fussy.

We are shooting her headshots in Rome because it is a very fashionable city. Valentino lives here, just off the Spanish Steps, with his adorable pugs and Audrey Hepburn filmed a movie here and both were very successful, to say nothing of a 1000 year domination of the globe. I need my daughter to be successful too if I am going to make any money and great head shots are a step in that direction.

So, I say, “Hey Hemingway, did you know you were on the Huffington Post and everyone got super angry?”

The toddler/baby modeling business has a low bar for entry in this way. The powers appreciate a non-professional photo, or so it seems. Zuri Model and Talent, one of the top baby agencies out of Los Angeles, says, “We do prefer to see natural shots; free from make-up, hats, food on faces, etc. Simple shots that capture the prospective models natural coloring and everyday look.” But she is refusing to look at me right now, instead laughing at a nun and while this is one of her “everyday looks” it is not the one I want to send to Zuri or any other agency.

The Terrible 2’s are very real, don’t let any father fool you, and especially real for the daughter of an ex-professional snowboarder. My wife jumped off cliffs in her 20s and now her daughter is trying to jump off the marble steps I have her positioned her on, rose colored sun bathing her cheeks, and the nun is frowning and I am losing my patience.

But then I remember the most important tip a professional photographer ever told me, and it’s great for any father, not just fathers of potential supermodels. He said, “Always talk with your subject while shooting. It breaks down that weird stiff face thing and, if you keep pressing the button, you’ll get at least one useable image. Talk and shoot.”

So I say, “Hey Hemingway, did you know you were on the Huffington Post and everyone got super angry? One commenter wrote (and I dig out my phone so I can read verbatim) ‘… I feel so sorry for this man and his daughter. It appears that his entire self worth revolves around how much money you make and how attractive you are, and he’s making sure that these shallow values are passed on to his daughter.'”

She stops her antics and listens intently. Her face has never looked so cute so I continue. “And another writes …’The values he is instilling in his daughter could have devastating consequences.'”

She is beaming, head back, and the rose colored light is bathing her natural coloring. She does a quick spin then looks at me and says, “They’re buttholes, Papa.” Before sprinting into the Pantheon and almost knocking down the votive candle stand, potentially burning 2000 years of history to the ground.

How limiting would it be if I refuse to recognize what clearly turns her crank, focusing instead on what frumpy bloggers demand?

And of course they are not buttholes, but I understand what she is saying. There is a subset of parents who get extremely passionate about particular issues, particularly online, and beauty is one of them. They crow about how shallow it is to prop up gorgeousness. That looks are only skin deep. That “instilling these values” in a daughter will lead to “devastating consequences.”

Lisa Bloom, lawyer, author, mother who wrote an article titled ” How to Talk to Little Girls,” wherein she encouraged parents to never mention their appearance. She writes, “This one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge toward valuing female brains.”

I understand that cultural beauty tropes can lead to problems but so, and equally, can cultural scholastic or athletic standards. It is the parents’ job, the father’s job, to build confidence, swagger, empathy in his little girl. Not being honest doesn’t help her because — and here is the real truth — beauty is no less valuable than intelligence. It is no less valuable than physical coordination. It is no less valuable than an artistic spark. It is, rather, a grand and wonderful thing or to quote Nobel Prize-winning French surgeon Alexis Carrel, “The love of beauty, in its multiple forms, is the noblest gift of the human cerebrum.”

Of course good looks are a genetic accident but, honey, so is every other skill possessed by a 2-and-a-half-year old. Your ball of joy can count to 10 in English, Spanish, and French. Mine can do a spot on Kate Moss pout and here is the nut of the issue: Hemingway Rose Smith sees herself as a model. She consumes copies of WWD and Vogue. She gets lost in our oversized Rizzoli Kate Moss coffee table book. She loves beauty, both as it is defined by the fashion industry and in her own unique way. Ideas of what is chic and what is totally gauche float, non-stop, across her little temporal gyrus. (Pairing Disney princess Vans with a gold lamé sleeveless shift is chic, btw and lots and lots of lipstick is in in in!)

How limiting would it be if I refuse to recognize what clearly turns her crank, focusing instead on what frumpy bloggers demand? No. Beauty matters. It matters as much as anything else, or to quote Ivanka Trump, “Gorgeous hair is the best revenge.”

When I finally reach my daughter she is leaping across the chairs set up for a later mass and causing quite a disturbance. Her gorgeous platinum hair is reflecting the light from the oculus. I should grab her right away but she is leaping with such grace that I stand back and admire. She has the makings of a good athlete too, thanks to her mother, and I would probably push some sort of sport if she was any less pretty.

Cocktail Recipe To Take The Edge Off After Getting The Shot:

  • The classic Italian Aperol Spritz
  • Three parts Prosecco
  • Two parts Aperol
  • Splash of soda
  • Orange slice
  • Ice

(Give the orange slice to your beautiful child. She deserves it!)

Chas Smith is a hyper-ironic surf journalist and bon vivant from Coos Bay, Oregon. He has written for Vice, Surfing Magazine, Stab Magazine, Esquire.com, and is the cofounder of Beachgrit.com. His book latest book is Welcome To Paradise, Now Go To Hell.

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